Exploring New Territory: The Lure of Study Abroad
When Denison University junior Drew Hellmann decided to participate in a class trip to Europe during high school, he had little idea how much that decision would shape his life. “I knew from the moment I returned to the United States … that I wanted to study abroad while I was in college,” he says, “Once in college it wasn’t really a decision of whether or not I was going to study abroad but rather when and where I wanted to go.”
Whether you have already traveled extensively or just dreamed of visiting international landmarks like the Colosseum the Great Wall of China Buckingham Palace or the Sistine Chapel you should consider studying abroad during college. After all as Hellmann points out, “When will you be able to go to another country for a semester or full academic year without the pressures of a real job family or certain other responsibilities that students don’t have yet?” Plus you can earn credits toward your college degree while traveling. (And if you’re lucky maybe your parents will help foot the bill!)
Even better says Maral Dadourian, Senior International Officer at Regent’s College studying abroad is an investment in your future, “The skills gained by studying overseas and possibly working overseas will be valued in the future when it comes to applying for a job. Employers are looking more and more to hire graduates who come from an international background as the work force is becoming increasingly global.”
What Kinds of Study Abroad Programs are Available?
Study abroad offerings will vary from one school to the next but programs are typically offered for one semester one full academic year or all or part of the summer. Great Britain’s Newcastle University offers a choice of semester and year-long study abroad programs which says Dr. John Terry Deputy Director of the school’s International Office “gives [international students] access to most of the subjects we offer in the full undergraduate degrees.”
Another school located in England the University of Glamorgan offers its programs during three different terms — one starting in September and ending in December another running from January to Easter and a third spanning from Easter until the start of summer. The school does not however offer summer programs and according to Malcolm Taylor the University’s Head of International Recruitment “most students come for just one term.”
According to the Open Doors Profile of the U.S. Study Abroad Students 2006 report published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) about 37.5 percent of students spend one semester abroad. Almost the same number — 37.2 percent — spend a summer abroad. Only 6 percent spend a full academic year abroad.
Of course if you really want to immerse yourself in another culture and spend longer abroad you may consider attending college at a foreign university. Taylor says the University of Glamorgan “recruit[s] students after they finish high school for a three-year bachelor’s process. After the second year we offer internship opportunities for students who want to work abroad.”
What are the Benefits of These Different Types of Programs?
While each type of program has its benefits how long you should spend abroad really depends on you. If you don’t want to be away from home for long you may want to go abroad for only a summer. Some summer programs last only five or six weeks. Dr. Terry notes that “If you can only manage a semester try spring rather than fall — it gives you a longer study experience and it’s easier to extend your stay in Europe so you can travel.”
When Do Students Typically Study Abroad?
Most students study abroad during their junior year of college (about 35.8 percent according to he Open Doors report) or during the summer after their sophomore or junior year. By then students are typically settled into their school lives and can leave the nest of their home university without worrying about feeling like freshmen again when they return. Plus by junior year most students have fulfilled their basic requirements.
Where Can I Study Abroad?
Students considering studying abroad today have countless options. According to the 2006 Open Doors report the United Kingdom is the most popular destination in part because many Americans want to visit a country where they speak the language. (New Zealand and Australia are popular for the same reason.) Plus the UK’s location like those of other Western European countries gives you easy access to the rest of Europe for weekend trips.
Spain Italy Germany France the Czech Republic and Mexico are also popular among American students. But the hottest study abroad trends are found in South American countries like Chile Argentina and Brazil as well as Asian countries like Japan India and China. These countries offer language and business skills that are valuable in today’s economy. An added bonus of studying in Asia is that as Taylor emphasizes “Countries like Singapore and Hong Kong are starting to [improve] their own educational [programs for domestic and international students] and are very safe countries to study in.”
Will I Have a Chance to Travel While I’m Studying Abroad?
One of the perks of studying abroad is that you can visit other cities or towns in the country where you’re studying. If you’re studying in a country that is easily accessible to nearby countries you may get to see far more than your host country. Sometimes study abroad programs will include excursions for participants. If your program doesn’t do this take advantage of weekends and consider scheduling some time before your program begins or after it ends to do some exploring for yourself.
Where Can I Find Out About Different Study Abroad Programs?
In addition to your academic advisor and if your college has one your school’s study abroad office there are a number of resources you can consult to learn more about studying abroad. One of the best sources is students who have studied in a program or country you’re considering. Even if you don’t know anyone who has studied abroad most programs will gladly put you in touch with their alumni.
There are also many online sources you can consult including the IIE’s site. Elizabeth Bennellick Chatham University’s Director of International Programs also recommends www.studyabroad. com and www.goabroad.com. Each of these Web sites features articles on studying abroad and enables you to search for a program that is right for you.
Studying Abroad Seems Expensive. How Am I Going to Pay For This?
You don’t have to be rich to study abroad. There are a number of scholarships and loans available for students looking to study abroad. In fact there’s a whole database full of them! The IIE has a sister Web site dedicated to study abroad funding resources: www.studyabroadfunding.org.
What Are the Benefits of Participating in a Study Abroad Program Offered by My Own School Versus One Offered by Another Institution?
Many American colleges and universities offer their own study abroad programs and most have a study abroad office that will advise students looking for such programs. While it’s helpful if your own college offers a program that you like there’s no reason to lose sleep if the college you want to attend doesn’t feature many (or any) study abroad options. Many other universities as well as private firms offer great programs. The Austin Texas-based firm International Studies Abroad (www.studiesabroad.com) for instance offers immersion-style programs in many countries as well as a multi-country option.
According to Bennellick, there are many advantages to participating in a study abroad program offered through your own college: “The college has oversight of the academic component and classes may be taught by the college’s … faculty.” Plus because the student usually remains registered at his or her “home institution there is no difficulty with credit or grade transfer.” Typically the student can continue to receive financial aid from his or her home school while studying abroad. Plus “the college has endorsed the program enough to sponsor it which lends considerable credibility to the program.”
If you’re interested in a program through a college other than your own or one sponsored by a private company or non-college organization confirm that your school will approve the transfer of credits. You also may not receive the same level or form of financial aid for a program not through your school. Make sure you speak with officials at your college to find out how they will handle these matters before you commit to a program.
Wow! All Of This Sounds Great. I Want To Go Now! How Do I Choose A Program?
So if studying abroad appeals to you ask yourself some questions: How long do I want to be abroad?What countries or cultures interest me most? Do I want to study in a large city or in a smaller town? Do I want to travel extensively while I am studying abroad? While you shouldn’t worry if you cannot answer all of these questions yet the earlier you begin considering your study abroad possibilities the more likely you are to enjoy and get the most out of your experience.
Also think about what you want in terms of academic offerings program structure libraries and access to IT the availability and cost of housing options cost of the overall program and student composition. Once you’ve identified your preferences start looking for a program that fits most of them.
Rochelle Genecov is a freelance writer and editor.